MOVIES | Teenage kicks in 1960s Japan

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Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth is a film about rebellious youths who have lost a sense of purpose in the world. Set in the 1960s, it follows a young couple who try to break free from their society but cannot escape the pleasures that it offers.

Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari), a movie directed by Nagisa Oshima. Screening at the Walker Art Center on November 7 (7:30 p.m.) as part of the In the Realm of Oshima film series. Admission $8. For more information, see walkerart.org.


Makoto (Kuwano Miyuki) is a naïve high school student who goes hitchhiking with her friend one night, only to find herself in a perilous situation with a man who tries to rape her. She is saved by Kiyoshi (Kawazu Yusuke), who Makoto falls in love with despite the fact that he actually does rape her after he saves her. Eventually Kiyoshi admits that he loves Makoto, but as he is poor, he can’t treat her to the drinking and dancing lifestyle that they both enjoy. They end up going on a spree of robbing men who offer to give Makoto rides home.

The story of Makoto and Kiyoshi is contrasted with that of Yuki (Kuga Yoshiko) and Akimoto (Watanabe Fumio). Yuki is Makoto’s older sister, who has given up the ideals she had when the country was more stable. She and her former lover Akimoto regret the loss of their hope, and look down on the behavior of the younger couple, whose rebellion lacks any noble ideal.

The film is well-acted. Miyuki and Yusuke both offer compelling, nuanced performances, but it is hard to sympathize with them. If only they would just get jobs and stop drinking so much, then maybe they would be able to live together in happiness. Ultimately this is a cautionary tale, and a criticism of the indulgent nature of society.

Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.

Also in the Daily Planet, read Sheila Regan on Nagisa Oshima’s Taboo.